Zdenek Stybar conquers his third cyclo-cross World Championship

This blog is a space for minor sports and underground stories that are not usually launched in the main streams. In my humble opinion, cyclo-cross is the most amazing of the unknown sports. Although it is the little brother of cycling, there are few sports so exciting and thrilling, with riders fighting face to face riding full gas for an hour in a circuit full of mood, obstacles and mechanical.

Yesterday took place the World Championship in Hoogerheide, a race traditionally dominated by Belgians and riders from other mid-European countries. Nederlands, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Cchec Republic have little tradition in this sport and only a few of them can snatch to Belgian rider a place in the Top 10.

Sven Nys was the favourite, all the more since Niels Albert crashed during the morning training and injured his wrist. The World Cup winner, the 23 years-old Lars Van der Haar had not been consistent in during the last couple of weeks and Zdenek Stybar, who had barely ridden on the mood this season, focused in his road race career, was not thought to beat Nys, that lately had mastered the final part of the season.

(Watch the highlights of the race)

But as laps passed, Nys rivals had to give up due to his strong pace and only Zdenek Stybar catch up and stuck at his wheel. The passed the last lap together and when everybody expected Nys’s attack and Stybar’s surrender, it occurred quite the contrary, Stybar, who had been pushing during the whole race, as it is usual in such a brave rider, struggled for the ultimate push and got some metres that Nys was not longer able to chase.

Both had won the World Championship twice, but a memorable race end up with the greatest cyclocrossman of the history giving up against a top class rider that had ridden little during the winter season.

The Cannibal Queen carries on her dictatorship

The female category brought us another exhibition from the greatest female rider of the history, both in race and in the mood. Marianne Vos did not give any chances for her rivals and dominated the whole race, all by herself since the first lap, to win her sixth world Championship in a row and seventh overall. She is only 26 years old. Needles to say how outstanding and one of a kind is this Dutch rider that every year continues widening her legend.

(Watch the full race)

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An unbalanced Vuelta, once again

This year’s Vuelta a España route has been unveiled today and thus confirmed that once again organizers will keep on with the same “successful” pattern of the last editions. I say successful as every year since the race director, Javier Guilllem, took charge the overall classification has been tight until the end, keeping the emotion and the attention of supporters until the very final of the race.

However, many cycling fanatics do not agree with the directors point of view about the race, that makes the  route in order to avoid big differences between the leaders, and making the peloton face many consecutive uphill stage finals in which just few seconds can be scrapped in the GC fight. Last year where 12 uphill finishes and in 2014 there will be 8. Too much, taking into account that there will only be one long time trial, of no more than 34 kilometers and last day’s 10 kilometers individual sprint, that will hardly decide anything important. So once again time trial specialist will be far from Spain when the third Great Race is being held.

Curiously, this is the kind of route that most benefits Spanish riders “Purito” Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde that although every year La Vuelta makes a perfect route for them, they have not step on the first place of the podium since the race assumed this pattern.

The race is unbalanced in other aspects. Most of the stages will take place in Andalucia (southern Spain), where at the end of August riders will suffer an extreme heat of more than 35 degree. And there will be 5 more stages in Galicia (northern Spain), making the route map a bit ridiculous as stages will be only held in the south and in the north, avoiding the rest of the country, including the capital city Madrid, for the first since 1993.

The Vuelta will include other of Guillem’s main trend, very steep climb to attract spectators. This year’s will be San Miguel de Aralar, a climb with cement pavement that as formerly did Angliru or Cuitu Negro, will take riders into a narrow climb and test their ability to keep their balance up on the bike. Team cars and motorbike will have to struggle not to be stood up and provoke a jam.

Trying to create an spectacular race organizers have end up turning the race into a boring one, as every year the race is quite similar, sprinters and time trial specialist avoid the race because they have no opportunities and always the same kind of riders fight for the red jersey. Organizers have much too learn from Tour and Giro.

Welcome to hell, Wiggo

Source: “Sky Sports”

The last year’s Tour de France winner, Sir Bradley Wiggins, pointed to the Giro of Italy after getting his greatest aim. Everyone thought that it was a strange choice, as those riders who show enough strength to fight for the Tour tend to focus their entire career into the French race. Far more in the case of Wiggins, who is 33 and will not have many other chances to repeat his success in France.

He said that he wanted to win another 3 weeks race and Giro is the second most prestigious race of the world. Probably Wiggins thought that he could use the same method that he used in the Tour. Getting the same good shape that he had last year, use his teams strength to control the peloton and thanks to his superiority in time trials, get the pink jersey in Brescia. Turn the Giro into a velodrome and rule with the power of his sophisticated method of data and scientific stats.

Now that 11 stages of the course race have been ridden, we can say that Wiggins was wrong and reality has shown that winning the Giro is much difficult than winning the Tour, in particular for a rider with his features.

First of all, although the first week in Italy is not as hard as in France, where the peloton flies during 7 days and there is much stress to get the first positions of the bunch, in Italy the first week is full of death traps. Short but steep climbs, stages with not a single flat kilometre, bad weather and so on. In Wiggins’ case, his main problem during the first week has been a combination of two factors: bad weather and dangerous descents. He lost time and showed weakness when the road went down and he also caught a cold, what did not allow him to show his real abilities. In fact, he told in the start of the race that data said he was in his best shape ever.

He is actually fourth and more than 2 minutes down in the GC. Surely, taking into account that a 56 kilometres long time trial has been ridden, before starting the Giro he expected to reach at this point wearing the pink jersey with a great advantage. He managed that scenario in his mind.

The real situation is quite different: if he wants to win the Giro he needs to attack and get time in the stages which he expected just to defend his jersey. In this new scenario, Wiggins is not the favourite to win the Giro and he is not even the only option for his team. Some think about Rigoberto Uran as team leader, a better climber than him who has never shown weakness in the descents. He has already won a stage with a great demonstration of strength taking advantage of the other leaders’ control of his team mate.

If he had not wait to Wiggins the rainy day that the Briton descended, in his words, “like a girl”, he would be just one minute behind Nibali in the GC. Unfortunately for him, he had to wait and team managers will not entrust him to lead the team so soon. Probably they will commit the same mistake as in the 2011 Vuelta. Then Froome showed that he was more capable of winning the race than Wiggins and he lost time working for him. Afterwards, if he had not lost that time, he probably would have beaten Cobo. And the story seems to repeat.

There is still much more to come: many steep ascents, dangerous descents, attacks from the Colombian and Italian riders, controversy inside Team Sky and so on. At this time nothing seems advantageous for Bradley Wiggins, but he tries to send the message that he will no surrender.

Last year, in the Tour, Wiggins and Team Sky played the role of the hammer and got a crushing victory. Now Wiggo is the nail and it is difficult to think that he will recover and become the hammer again in such an unfavourable scenario as the hard third week of the Giro.

Cheating in sport

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Winning is something great. People like winning, surely you love winning. Even when we are playing cards or videogames we try to do our best in order to win. The victory is the shaft of the sport, but it is not only about to win. Is it worth winning at any price? Why does our  society tend to praise the winners and forget those ones that albeit making great efforts and overcoming themselves in an outstanding way, they fail in holding a trophy or being the first to cross the finish line?

Many athletes cheat because they suffer a great pressure to win and if they don’t, they become unworthy. This lack of reconnaissance of the no-winners makes them take the decision of gambling and acquiring products for enhancing their performance. They do it because in professional sport only winning matters.

But I would like to take a look back. More than a century ago some countries were struggling for being the firsts to set foot on the North Pole. We still do not know who really was the first man to reach the Pole, as many thought or pretend to have reached it, but later it was demonstrated that they did not say the truth.

Frederick Cook claimed that he reached the Pole on April 1908. Now we know that he lied, as at the pace that he stated to have carried on in his way to the Pole was not possible for an early 20th century explorer. To take Cooks version true we will need to believe that he walked 60 kilometres a day, what is absolutely impossible under those conditions (heavy baggage, rough surfaces…). In those years of controversy the Royal Geographical Society considered that Robert E. Peary was the first to reach the North Pole, a year later Cook had claimed to do so. However, nowadays, it supports neither Cook nor Peary, although it is widely believed that Peary did it first.

Cook at the summit of Fake Peak. He told that it was Mc Kinley’s summit.

But there are many evidences that put into trouble Peary’s version and albeit he probably got very close, surely closer than anyone before, it is unlikely that he got his aim. And, furthermore, many suspicious gaps where found in his journals.

Both Peary and Cook had fight during years for something that had become and obsession for them. Reaching the North Pole was their ultimate goal and who knows if their cheated to their own and, of course, the American society, which expected them to conquer that uncharted land and rise the countries glory. In fact, Cook had cheated some years before when claimed to have surmounted Mountain McKinley. To demonstrate his feat Cook took a photograph of himself on the summit of a mountain that, years later, was discovered that it was a much lower mountain (15.000 feet lower). Now it is called the Fake Peak.

Since them, many other great feats are believed to be false, like Maurice Herzog’s climb to Annapurna. The book he wrote after going down the mountain, while recovering from his serious injuries, describes a magnificent and epic adventure in Nepal. First, it was a great challenge to explore the lands and try to find the possible ways up to the mountains and, then, going up an eight-thousand mountain was also quite challenging.

After finishing the World Was II, countries started some kind of race to conquer the still uncharted places of the world. France was one of the countries that invested more to put their flag on the top of the highest mountains. The goal was clear: to find and reach the top of an eight-thousand mountain. They invested money and hired the most skilful mountain climber from the Alps. Herzog lead that expedition.

In some way, all the country hoped tthem to reach the summit and, this way, raise the countries glory and gain international respect. There was much more on game than just surmounting a peak. Herzog and company brought in their rucksacks the expectancy of a whole country. To fail meant to disappoint a nation. And with that pressure, they left towards the unexpected.

The picture that supposedly show Herzog on the summit of Annapurna. Source: ambafrance-es.org

The fact is that although Herzog claims that he reached the summit, and so he described in his book, after some years his version has been dismissed many times. Lachenal, the one that escorted Herzog in his way to the summit, died just a few years later they come back from Himalaya. Maybe too soon to feel sorry about their big lie and to confess.

I don’t want to state that Herzog cheated and that he was a liar, but it seems unlikely that when people still die climbing that mountain and the death probability at Annapurna is so high, he reached the top in 1950. He had just two evidences to certify his success: his word, and we know by experience that people uses to lie when such feats are called into question, and two photographs of him supposedly on the summit of Annapurna. I say supposedly because we can not say that the pictures show the summit of the mountain and thus his epopee has been questioned during many years. In fact, we have just Herzog’s word as a proof of his success and, unfortunately, he also died a few months ago. And, once again, some suspucious gaps in his journal put into doubt his succesful story.

Precisely at Annapurna, in the race to become the first woman reaching the fourteen eight-thousand mountains of the world, Miss Ho, the South Korean alpinist stated having reached the summit when she did not. On 27 April 2010 she became the first woman to get that feat, as Edurne Pasaban got his fourteen mountains on 17 May. But Miss Ho’s climb was under suspicion since the beginning and some months later the Korean Mountain Federation didn’t recognise Miss Ho’s ascent. Formerly, some Sherpas told Edurne Pasaban that she neither reached Kachejunga’s summit.

Imágenes de la televisión coreana KBS en las que se ve a Miss Oh en la cima del Annapurna.

Miss Oh supossedly on the summit of Annapurna. Source: KBS

To have the first woman climbing the fourteen eight-thousands would be a reason to be proud for Korean government and that is why the Korean alpinist had a wide support from the authorities. She climbed the mountains at a frenetic pace but, at the end, become a victim of her own ambition. Alpinism is not a speed sport. It is much more than climbing mountains as fast as possible. She probably never understood that, she cheated and shamed the world of sport and alpinism.

More recently, Lance Armstrong leaded the greatest cheating story in the world of sport. He confessed afterwards and thanks to that we all know now that, certainly, his sport career was so successful thanks to performance enhancing drugs. I am not saying that Armstrong was not the best rider of the moment, as many other rivals of him also admitted having doped and thus he won in equal conditions. But he cheated and lied. And he is paying for it.

Doping is probably the most used way to cheat in sport. Diving, flopping and pretending injuries are another.

The society is sending a clear message to the world of sport: we only care about winners; we do not care about effort, overcoming stores or so one. We love the ones that get the ring, hold the trophy or reach first to the finish line.

The way of avoiding cheating in sport is changing the values of our society. If we praise an athlete that trains 8 hours a day and overcomes difficulties, but does never win, he will not have the temptation of cheating, as this public reconnaissance might be enough prize for him.

Of course, winning is great and winners deserve to be praised. But is not only about winning at any price. He must not only focus on the goal but in the way. Probably media is guilty for creating this kind of society that only praises winners. If we do not want cheaters we must promote other type of values.

Andy Schleck, the story of a complete breakdown

Source: Elreferente.es

The last Andy Schleck’s episode reported by a French politician, Pierre-Yves Le Borgn, has lightened which is Andy Schleck’s current state: he is absolutely sunken in the shadows. That politician wrote in his Facebook page that he met a famous rider, classified second in a Tour of France, drunk in a lifter, unable to press the correct button due to his bad condition. When people inquired him who was that cyclist, and some started speculating that could be Andreas Kloden or Jan Ullrich, he clarified that the rider was Andy Schleck.

Some days ago, after giving-up at Tirreno Adriatico’s seventh stage (one of the hardest stages recently held), RadioShack Team’s sources stated that they have failed focussing to improve the rider’s physical condition instead of concentrating in his mental health. And now we have understood the regrets of the team about having paid scant attention to their rider’s psychical recovery, as this seems to be the main hurdle to be back in his best shape. To sum up, his real problem is more psychological than physical.

The fact is that since last year’s Criterium du Dauphiné Schleck is living in a vicious circle. Withdrawals in almost every race that has taken part, his brother’s positive doping test and the consequent ban and so on have not allowed him to demonstrate the great rider he is. Or better to say, he was. Schleck has never been on of those riders that love cycling more than anything in the world, cycling is not his main passion, but a great way to earn his living. He loves money and fame, but happiness and sport success do not depend in either of them. And thus why his recovery will be hard, because he will give up when things will not go well for him. He is mentally very weak.

There is no room for doubt that he is one of the most gifted riders of the peloton. Since his outstanding appearance in the Giro d’Italia in 2007, until them he was a complete unknown rider for most of the cycling fans, he was expected to dominate the world of cycling. If he was able to get a second in such a tough race as the Giro when he was just 22, what was he not able to do?

He then aimed to win the greatest cycling race and in fact he achieved his aim, after Contador’s disqualification gave him the 2010 Tour de France win. He also got two second places in 2009 and 2011 and added a Liege-Bastogne-Liege race to his winner list. But the most remarkable fact that he achieved in those years was that he seemed the only rider capable of beating Alberto Contador, unstoppable until Schleck started shining. Schleck was the only one that dared to attack him in mountain stages and the Spaniard feared him. And in 2011 he played the main role of one of the most memorable days of the modern cycling, when his “all in” attack in Col du Izoard with more than 60 kilometres left recorded the epic cycling that the fans love.

Whether Andy Schleck will have enough strength to get out this vicious circle is a complete enigma. If what the French politician says is true, the key aspect of his recovery will be to make him understand that hard work and mental strength is the only way to be back in his best.

His challenge to come back in his best shape will be for him the tougher hurdle that he has ever faced. It is usually said that for an athlete the most difficult thing is not to get to the top, but to stand there. Schleck reached the top and now has fallen so deep that he seems unlikely to return to the top. Some people have started comparing him with Chava Jimenez or Marco Pantani. I thing that his case is not so extreme, but his team needs to do a great effort to bring him back from the shadows.

The “logarithmic cycling” and how to avoid it

Source: Steephill.tv

The term that I have used to headline this post may seem strange. I will explain it briefly. Since Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky discovered that a “fat-ass” rider can win the tour thanks to sophisticated specific training, the application of science on cycling has been thought as the panacea for performance enhancing. We know that some years ago science was used in other ways to make riders go faster (yes, doping existed and most of the riders used it), but this applications where more linked to medicine.

Since cycling is doing great efforts to be a cleaner sport, with the so called “modern teams” with Dave Brailsford, Sean Yates and Tim Keirrison’s Team Sky leading them, new training methods are been introduced. People in the world of cycling now talk about SRM tools, watt-counter systems and so on. Sky has turn roads into velodromes, every single movement seems to be measured. When we see Team Sky riders setting the path of the bunch they ride at the ideal speed, the one that is suitable in every moment of the stage, appropriate for their leaders strength and form. Even when the leaders attack, after having caused enough fatigue to the rest of the bunch, they focus on their little screens to check that they ride under the correct watt threshold. Everything must be always under control and thus how Team Sky has been so successful in the stage races of the last two years. This way they won last year’s Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and Volta ao Algarve. And in 2013 they have also won Paris-Nice with Richie Porte, using the same strategy they formerly used with Wiggins and Froome. It does not matter who is the leader, they always act the same way. 

But suddenly, at today’s stage in Tirreno Adriatico, cycling has turned against the Team Sky’s “logarithmic cycling”. And that has succeeded thanks to 3 main factors: the meteorology, the route and, above of all, the riders’ ambition. For almost 6 hours cyclist have stand under the heavy rain that, if possible, has toughen a stage that was designed for pain. Uncountable short but steep climbs in the second half of the stage have converted the stage in a mined battle camp. With 50 kilometres remaining, some riders needed to put their feet off the pedals for not falling to the wet pavement. It was such a tough climb that riders moved in slow motion, some of them, at the back of the bunch, moving from one side to the other of the road, zigzagging to avoid losing the balance. Images of suffering and epic cycling.

In that context, and with the chase just 2 minutes ahead, the bunch has decided to fight for the victory and the main riders, considering that the stage was being so complicated, started to move trying to dismast the control that since then Chris Froome’s team had installed in the race. They found a great opportunity to become the watt counter useless and test the leader’s strength and ability in a chaotic final, take him out of the protection of data and science and carrying him to a face to face struggle.

http://video.gazzetta.it/vince-sagan-nibali-nuovo-leader/0b11e20e-8a75-11e2-bc5c-838ef8f87b52 (Click here to watch the stage’s highlights)

Nibali attacked toughly in a 20% slope and only Joaquim Rodríguez and Peter Sagan, the stage winner, could resist his pace. Froome did not manage to keep his balance and after losing many positions in the last short climbs, spent too much strength trying to get to the chase group, for the first time in 2013 Tirreno Adriatico, racing alone with many riders ahead. Without teammates around, his effort was not enough to reduce the difference between his group and the two groups that rode ahead. Thus he lost a race that seemed to be his.

Race organizers have discovered how to create a stage ideal for fans’ joy, reviving the epic of the ancient cycling, when riders reached the finish line one by one, losing minutes and provoking great changes in the overall classification.

Today we have not seen Team Sky’s boring control that desperated both fans and rivals last Tour de France. He have seen the superb all-powerful team suffering and losing the control of the situation.

Showing such superiority they have create a willingness of watching uncontrolled cycling, with attacks, attractive routes and epic movements. And that is what we have watched today, a total breakdown of Sky’s dictatorship thanks to the weather, the toughness of the short steep climbs and, above of all, the courage and ambition of Vincenzo Nibali, a man that must be regarded as the current main entertainer of cycling races.

Tylor Phinney’s great deed

In such an epic day, I want to praise Tylor Phinney the same way I have praised Nibali or Sagan. However, he spent 37 minutes more for fill in the stage. 37 minutes more under the rain. 37 minutes more of pain. And, in his case, there was no recompense in the finish line. No fight for the victory, or improvement in the overall. He only wanted to finish the stage, after been left alone by his “grupeta” fellows, who decided to give up with 130 kilometres to the finish. But he did not. He continued alone, under the rain and surely thinking “what the fuck I am doing?” I strongly recommend reading his last tweets to understand how a rider feels after doing what he has done. And a little detail must be added: his effort was useless, as he arrived out of time limit. Pure cycling.

The cannibal queen

Source: Cyclingnews.com

In cycling the nickname “cannibal” is usually given to those outstanding riders who are dominant during a long period in which no victory seems to fulfil them. They keep winning over and over again until their rivals get absolutely hopeless. Eddy Mercks and Sven Nys where nicknamed this way when they started winning endlessly and established a sport dictatorship in their respective period.

At 25, Marianne Vos already deserves to be given that nickname. If it possible Vos is a more complete cannibal that the before mentioned two riders, as she has dominate the whole women’s cycling: cyclo-cross, track and road. Just taking a look at her list of relevant victories can you realize who is Marianne Vos, without a doubt one of the most dominant athletes of the history of sport. To compare her with Eddy Mercks is more than right, moreover at this point I try to think whether the Belgian would have ever won titles in other disciplines of cycling and, at the same time, be so dominant in road cycling. And that  seems quite unlikely.

Vos has demonstrate not only having talent and physical capacity to beat their rivals, but to be capable of overcoming her own limits to get victories that for any reason offered her more resistance. That is the case, for example, of the Giro Donne, a race that she was determined to win and has already won twice. She had to lose weight to improve her climbing skills and perform better in the tough roads of Italian ascents. So she did, and she won the race.

She neither gave up when she seem to be incapable of winning the rainbow jersey again, trying to repeat her succes in 2006. Until last September 2012, she waited patiently although winning the silver medal five times in a row. She waas obliged to be close to the rider that every year during a five-year period was taking the world best rider’s jersey, just a step higher than her in the podium, when everyone believed the victory must be hers. She end up retaking the jersey thanks to a impressive attack climbing the Cauberg, an acceleration that will remain for many years in the cycling lovers’ memory.

When the winter comes the temperature drops down and most of the riders, both women and men, tend to hibernate, hiding from the flashes, selecting a good place for recovering and then start training for the next season, but she doesn’t stop at all. It is cyclo-cross time, the discipline in which Marianne has won more world champion titles, five, in overall 6 participations. Thus during winter Vos increases her number of victories, with her distinctive smile and those appealing blue eyes in her muddy face, hands up, and her first rival more than a minute behind. That is the most repeated image in the races that Vos takes part.

Source: cxmagazine

As said before, Vos has dominated road, cyclocross and track cycling. I haven’t mentioned the other great discipline of cycling, the mountain bike, because she only competed in mountain bike in her early years. And, of course, she won the national championship. But this discipline will not miss Vos’s talent any more, because she stated that she will compete in Rio 2016 for trying to win a medal. She has already won Olympic medals in both road and track cycling and if she accomplishes her new goal, she will achieve an unbeatable feat: no other rider has ever won 3 medals in three cycling disciplines. And, certainly, many years will pass until any other is near of such a feat, as it seems unconceivable, at least in men’s cycling, where is impossible for any rider to combine succesfully such different disciplines.

Where are her limits? She is now 25 and if she continues in the way of the last years, maybe in 5 years to come we will be talking about one of the greatest athletes of the history and the best female athlete ever. She is not as highly regarded as she deserves due to two main reasons: she is a woman and, unfortunately, our society doesn’t take much into account female athletes and she is a cyclist, a sport that due to doping scandals has been despised by the world of sport and media.

In any case, I believe that Vos deserves to be mentioned in this humble blog due to her contribution to the world of sport and I think there was not a better way to show my respect  and my admiration that dedicate her a post.